Fallen Fruit


A friend just sent me a great website called fallen fruit. Public Fruit is the concept behind Fallen Fruit, which is an activist art project that aims to map all public fruit trees around the world. They are based out of CA, so most of the mapping is there. When you go to their website there is a pull-down menu. Go to the maps and then click on the interactive online map. What is considered “public fruit” is fruit on or overhanging public spaces such as sidewalks, streets or parking lots. I think I would be respectful of a tree that is obviously in someone’s yard, but otherwise I think the concept is great. Why plant ornamental trees that aren’t even native species, when you could feed hungry people and wildlife?

In addition to mapping fruit trees, they are planning fruit parks in under-utilized areas. 

I love this idea and think that everyone should spread the word and add pin points onto their interactive fruit map.

Foraging with Wildman Steve Brill

On Saturday my friend Alison and I went on a wild edibles foraging tour of Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Wildman Steve Brill was our very funny and knowledgeable guide. We had a big group of about 25-30 people and we raised eyebrows as we all bend down, picked some weedy looking plant and then put it in our mouths. I highly recommend any of Steve’s tours. I learned a lot about plants I’d never really taken notice of before. He shared tips for what part of the plant is edible, how to cook them, what time of the year you are most likely to find them, and their medicinal properties.

Here’s a list of what we found on Saturday. Alison took the notes while I took the photos. There was so much information, it would have been hard to do both!

1. Hedge Mustard
2. Poor Man’s Pepper
     a. good in stews and salads. Prevents cancer cells from developing.
3. Garlic Mustard
     a. very invasive! Eat a lot of it.
     b. Use it in pesto
     c. Root is also edible and tastes like horseradish
     d. Is in season well into May
     e. Flower bud looks like broccoli and the best flavor is when the plant is blossoming.
4. Lesser Celandine
     a. in the buttercup family
     b. eat it before it flowers. It’s toxic after it flowers.
     c. Best cooked w/ rice
5. Gout Weed
     a. Parsley and celery flavor
     b. Use it like parsley.
6. Kentucky Coffee Tree Seeds
     a. Seeds and green pulp are poisonous raw. Roast them about 1.5 hours at 300º. Grind them to       make decaf coffee.
     b. Can be added to hot chocolate and chocolate cake.
7. Star of Bethlehem
     a. Poisonous to eat
     b. Can be confused with field garlic. It has a distinguishing white stripe that field garlic doesn’t.
8. Japanese Knot Weed
     a. Related to rhubarb
     b. Peel the stem and eat it. Don’t eat the leaves.
     c. Makes a nice fruit compote. 1 part knot weed to 10 parts fruit.
     d. Short fat stems are optimal
     e. Has pretty, lacy flowers in the fall
9. Hercules Club (aka Angelica Tree or Devil’s Walking Stick)
     a. Shave the thorns off with a knife and steam the developing shoots like asparagus.
10. Red Bud Blossoms
     a. put them in salad or toss in batter and make fritters
11. Chickweed
     a. Eat leaves, stems and flowers raw or cooked
     b. Tastes like corn
     c. Loads of vitamins
     d. To cook: wash and chop into bite-sized pieces. Cook (steam the wet leaves) in a pot on low          heat until wilted. In a separate pot cook garlic in oil and toss together.
12. Mugwort
     a. It’s in the wormwood family
     b. You can make a tea to help with PMS
13. Field Garlic
14. Daylily
     a. Has tubers that look like potatoes.
     b. The leaves taste like green beans.
     c. You can eat the leaves, stems, tubers or flowers
     d. 1 in 50 people have digestive problems w/ daylilies. Gradually build up to eating them.
15. Sassafras
     a. Branches grow out at 45º angles from trunk
     b. Smells like root beer
     c. Wash the root, simmer for 20 minutes and chill the tea
     d. Can also use the cambium of the root as cinnamon
16. May Apple
     a. Poisonous except for the ripe fruit
17. Violet
     a. Use the leaves in salad
18. Burdock
     a. Delicious root. Cut the root razor thin on the diagonal, simmer it and put it in rice or a stew.
     b. Leaf has silver, hairy underside.

Urban Foraging

wild parsnip

wild parsnip

So I mentioned that while I was on a birdwatching tour of Prospect Park I ran into a friend taking a foraging for wild edibles tour. I keep thinking about it and figured out who was running the tour. The man’s name, appropriately enough, is “Wildman” Steve Brill.

On her tour, my friend found wild parsnips, sassafras and other edible plants. It was pretty amazing because almost nothing is green or blooming yet.

Here’s a schedule of his classes. I think I’m going to the one on April 18th in Prospect Park.

Mad City Chickens

A year after “Mad City Chickens” played to a sold-out, enthusiastic crowd at the Wisconsin Film Festival, the documentary has found a niche with foodies and, beginning this week, a new life on DVD.

The Mount Horeb filmmakers spent more than two years researching the backyard chicken phenomenon in the United States. The film centers on how Madison has become a hotbed for urban chickens, looking at how the laws changed in Madison to allow coops, and what drives urban dwellers to keep chickens for eggs and grow to love the creatures.

“I was thinking it would be a 10-minute film; Tashai thought maybe half an hour,” Lughai said. “We were just going to shoot this film because we like chickens ourselves, but the problem was it was too damn interesting.”

Forty hours of interviews became a 79-minute film (the couple trimmed four minutes from the big-screen version for the DVD). There is nearly an hour’s worth of extras, including more from Mother Earth Editor Cheryl Long, some tips for keeping backyard chickens and a making-of featurette.

“The featurette tells us how it grew and how somebody told us about somebody else,” Lughai said. “All these connections, and it just kept growing and growing. It could have kept growing, but we had to stop somewhere.”

Lovington and Lughai took great pains to make “Mad City Chickens” as entertaining as it is informative. So there are heart-tugging stories, such as the nearly dead chicken found on the road and rescued by Nutzy Mutz and Crazy Catz owner Liz Perry. And there are entertaining moments, such as a piano-playing chicken named Beanie.

“The original idea was to share that they can be more than food items,” Lovington said. “When we first got our chickens, I was excited about getting eggs. I didn’t realize you can have a relationship with them, and after we had them, it was a revelation. That was the first impetus — to share that with people.”

The film played at two film festivals in Canada after its world premiere at the Wisconsin Film Festival last April. Now, the couple is hearing more interest from food festivals. A showing is scheduled at the Santa Fe farmers’ market, at a food co-op in Moscow, Idaho, and at the Spring Film Festival presented by the Outpost Natural Foods Cooperative in Milwaukee.

“This is really attractive to food people — people in the food movement,” Lughai said. “The ‘Mad City Chickens’ group was really on the cutting edge. When they were getting their chicken laws changed, it wasn’t really a movement. It is a movement now, all over the place. I get e-mails from all over the U.S. and Canada; I’ve gotten e-mails from the UK, France and Italy. They asked us to submit to a slow food festival in Italy.”

This summer, “Mad City Chickens” will play at the Cottonwood Creek Environmental Film Festival in California, its first showing in the state.

“That’s cool because it’s right next to Escondido, where Beanie the piano-playing chicken lives,” Lughai said. “Jay Walker, who is out there, will finally get to see the film.”

Lughai doesn’t know if Beanie will be around to enjoy it, though. The filmmakers haven’t been in touch with Walker lately, and Beanie’s blog hasn’t been updated for almost a year.

The chickens have kept Lovington and Lughai busy, but they have other projects in the works. Both are feature films. One is a period piece set in rural England that they’ll film here. Another is a story inspired by their time raising puppies that will become guide dogs.

But they’ll also be spending time promoting the “Mad City Chicken” DVD. To order a copy, go here. The DVD sells for $21.95.


This tuesday evening I took a compost workshop at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. It was an interesting workshop run by Luke Hall. Most of the information I already knew, but it was great for filling in some gaps and refreshing my memory of other things. The workshop was worth it alone just because taught me a new term. Freegan. Maybe I live under a rock, but I had never heard of freegans before. And for those unenlightened folks like myself, here is a description of a freegan from freegan.info

Perhaps the most notorious freegan strategy is what is commonly called “urban foraging” or “dumpster diving”. This technique involves rummaging through the garbage of retailers, residences, offices, and other facilities for useful goods. Despite our society’s sterotypes about garbage, the goods recovered by freegans are safe, useable, clean, and in perfect or near-perfect condition, a symptom of a throwaway culture that encourages us to constantly replace our older goods with newer ones, and where retailers plan high-volume product disposal as part of their economic model. Some urban foragers go at it alone, others dive in groups, but we always share the discoveries openly with one another and with anyone along the way who wants them. Groups like Food Not Bombs recover foods that would otherwise go to waste and use them to prepare meals to share in public places with anyone who wishes to partake. By recovering the discards of retailers, offices, schools, homes, hotels, or anywhere by rummaging through their trash bins, dumpsters, and trash bags, freegans are able to obtain food, beverages, books, toiletries magazines, comic books, newspapers, videos, kitchenware, appliances, music (CDs, cassettes, records, etc.), carpets, musical instruments, clothing, rollerblades, scooters, furniture, vitamins, electronics, animal care products, games, toys, bicycles, artwork, and just about any other type of consumer good. Rather than contributing to further waste, freegans curtail garbage and pollution, reducing the over-all volume in the waste stream.

I haven’t met any self-proclaimed freegans, so I have no real opinion on their manifesto. I do agree that we add a shameful amount of perfectly good items to the landfills. My sister and I used to call the weirdly disposable joke gifts our mother used to give us landfill fodder. I commend any group in America for trying to curtail the flow of goods to the garbage dumps.